At first, Keenan Conder didn’t want the part.
But that’s hard to tell, a week before showtime, as the 17-year-old senior at Durham School of the Arts lopes across the stage and bounds high onto a cabinet, proclaiming his readiness as Petruchio to match wits against the sharp-tongued Kate.
“It was a real risk for me,” said Conder, who was selected by director Carl Martin to play the male lead in William Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew.” The role is his first onstage. “I thought it would take me out of my comfort zone, but it actually redefined it.”
The cast gathered in the Black Box Theatre on Thursday to rehearse the classic comedy. The plot: Three suitors pine for a wealthy nobleman’s sweet youngest daughter in Padua, but he won’t give her up for marriage until his castigating eldest daughter, Katharine, finds a husband.
Isabela Urioste, a 17-year-old senior, portrays Kate as a scowling, snarling, hard-willed woman. She’s performed smaller parts in prior Shakespeare shows, such as “Twelfth Night,” but this marks her first time as a female lead.
“Kate’s obviously very passionate,” Urioste said. “And she’s got a quick wit. There’s a lot that’s under the surface with her, too.”
Martin declared Shakespeare his favorite writer. “It’s so valuable for students to be exposed to poetry like this. They learn so much, just being in rehearsal.”
The more you listen to Shakespeare, the less alien it seems, he said. “The more familiar you become with the language, the more it becomes your friend.”
The DSA production breaks from more traditional stagings of “Shrew,” with at least one flash-mob-like performance of The Who’s “Magic Bus” taking cast members into the bleachers while Tyler Thigpen strums energetically on guitar.
Thigpen, a 15-year-old in 10th grade and a remarkably good sport, also plays a role during a sequence called “The Induction,” in which he’s a male page dressed as the wife of a man who has allegedly just snapped out of madness.
“There’s a lot of funny stuff and cool parts,” said Thigpen, who wants to be a professional musician someday. “The song is good and it sounds good with guitar and cello.”
Urioste doubts that she’ll pursue acting as a career, but said it’s definitely a hobby that could hold her interest in college.
Conder, meanwhile, may quit while he’s ahead.
“I think this is a one-time, once-in-a-lifetime experience for me,” he said.
Shows begin next Thursday at Durham School of the Arts and run through Saturday.
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